The fashion industry is changing. Design and style are as important as always, but now there is a growing ‘third dimension’ to the clothes you wear – how are they made and who makes them. The Fair Trade and ethical fashion movement is growing around the world as consumers are asking more and more questions about the production process.
There isn’t a clear definition of Ethical Fashion, and Fair Trade certification depends on the governance of countries that often cannot implement the regulations they adopt. So we think the best option is to be transparent, let’s show the world how and what we do.
A Fair Wage – we guarantee work contracts and a premium above the minimum wage in Nepal and Italy. Our staff are highly skilled and we want them to choose to work with us because they are rewarded and recognised for their contribution to every product. In Nepal, we also offer housing subsidies, free education for all children under 12 years and subsidies thereafter, support for rebuilding homes after the earthquake and free transportation to and from work.
Investment in our staff and their communities – In Nepal, we built a new school for the families of our staff. Our foundation is helping to rebuild communities affected by the earthquake and we donate to emergency relief programs operating in the rest of the country. In Italy, we work with a business cooperative of six factories who all help fund local community projects.
Environmental Sustainability – this is a difficult issue for us. We implement the same standards of environmental impact in Nepal and Italy, so our production process is clean and green. However, the production of cashmere wool in Mongolia and China is not as environmentally sound as we would like it to be. We purchase yarn from sources where we believe the wool is sourced sustainably, but currently, there is no way to be 100% sure. We support and encourage the cashmere industry to reduce it’s impact on fragile landscapes.
Economic Empowerment– Nepal is a country full of small-scale production and where women are the heart of the family unit. There is a local saying, ‘Give a man money and he will use for himself. Give a woman money and it will benefit the entire family.’ We think this is true, and so source product components from women’s empowerment charities and in the factory, employ a majority of women.
Direct Trade – when working with brands and large volume customers we try to create direct linkages through the supply chain. Our value is in managing communication flows and ensuring uncompromising quality. The direct contact between customers and producers builds trust and a genuine sense of ownership by everyone in the factories. The outcome is that every product is made with care – we think that makes a difference.
Fair Labour Conditions – in our social audit program, we always perform better than the labour condition standards set by the International Labour Organisation.
One of the limitations we have in Nepal is local governance. The Government of Nepal has signed the World Trade Agreement and accepts ILO directives as minimum standards. But there is a problem, the Government doesn’t have the capacity is implement those standards. Worker conditions are often sub-standard as factory owner pay bribes to inspectors, waste water cannot be tested as there simply isn’t the necessary equipment to do so, and local councils are often powerless to impose fines or punitive measures as the legal system is extremely slow.
So how do we deal with these problems? Wherever possible we try to use local standards and processes, and then improve them. Often this means using the European standard and testing systems as there is no viable local option. An example is our waste-water treatment. We use natural spring water to wash our products in production, and we are proud that the waste-water is treated so well that it’s much cleaner than the river water it flows into. Another example, is the school for factory kids also provides evening classes for workers. The most popular subjects are written Nepali (many women only received basic education in the past) and conversational English.
We believe we do the best we can for our staff and the communities they live in, although we would really like to do more. As our business grows we are able to support more initiatives and in time, we hope that Nepal can proudly stand as an example of how ethical fashion changed the lives of a country.